Making a Dent In the Universe . . . Putting a Dent in Your Membership Growth

Guest Blog By Kordell Norton, CSP

He smiled. “If they had not done it already . . . they had it on their bucket list of to-do’s. EVERYONE of them.”

A consultant friend was doing training for a large national oil industry client. The client had hired several hundred engineers of various sorts and flavors (chemical, electrical, mechanical) and they were going through a twelve week on-boarding class. The “getting to know you” session was in full swing when the consultant experienced the Making-A-Dent-In-The-Universe observation.

“Every one of this group of one hundred plus engineers had taken a year out of their career pursuits to contribute to 3rd World countries challenges. They had traveled overseas to help build water plants, or to make bridges, and dozens of other pursuits. Those who had not, already had it on their to-do list.”

The younger generation of potential association membership wants something more than to “Just Join.”

Associations are looking at long term membership growth with a cautious and wary eye. The sweet spot of association membership, those Baby Boomers who are at the core of membership and leadership are starting to phase out of participation. The Generation X & Y, the “Millennials” are not showing the same enthusiasm for joining.

Who is getting the next generation to join and participate?

Those associations who:

1. Have two distinct marketing messages to the two large demographic groups (over 40 yrs and under)

2. Have actual programs and activities that allow the younger membership to contribute, to give back to community. These “make a dent” activities are more than show, they are serious minded goals and objectives that call for real commitment and work by those involved. If results are NOT seen and measured, then it is often seen as a publicity stunt and the Millennials can smell those a mile away.

3. Programming and events must:

  • Show a return on investment
  • Develop leadership skills of those who are participants.

4. Quit fighting technology. If you are asking attendees to “turn off your phones” then you are guilty of serious crimes against the Millennials. Instead you need to be rewarding those who bring technology into your association events, and leadership. How? That is another article.

5. Quit marketing the same old way. If many of your association presentations are being done by your own members, then shun the inbreeding of information.To get the Millennials to join the association you are going to have market differently.

6. You are also going to have to start searching out and finding the new breed of presenter who is educational, entertaining and who creates a highly interactive program. Said Mark Twain, “it is a horrible death . . . to be talked to death.”

While presenting recently at one state Society of Association Executives, the author observed the meeting planner facilitate a group activity that built stuffed teddy bears for children who had experienced a recent natural catastrophe. The participation started slow, but once everyone figured out how to build the bears and realized the ultimate service it was going to provide the unfortunate, the involvement was overwhelming.

The future is coming for association management and the light at the end of the tunnel is another train. If your next Friday finds you doing the same things you were a week ago, chances are you “need to get out more,” to turn up the dial on innovation and creativity. Those who are intimidated by the challenges of tomorrow, who vice grip the Status Quo will get run over by that train in the tunnel. Throw the switch and move onto other tracks.


Kordell Norton is a Revenue Mechanic who works with organizations who want to increase their sales, improve marketing or grow their membership. The author of five books and a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) member of the National Speaker Association, his consulting firm works with business who want better sales, improved membership, and marketing that connects and makes you highly visible. He can be reached at